umami

Getty Images

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

After Christmas and Easter, Ascension is my favorite feast of the year. It’s completely uncommercialized, for one thing, so there’s no pressure to find the right gift or fix the perfect meal. It’s also the one day of the year my parish digs out the incense and clouds the place up, which I love despite the fact that I’m five weeks into a bout of bronchitis. We had a beautiful “smells and bells” liturgy last night, followed by cake and champagne, because although Hallmark hasn’t yet discovered it, Ascension is big. It celebrates the completion of Jesus’ earthly ministry and his return to the “right hand of the Father,” whatever exactly that means. But it’s also the occasion for his last words to us. What did he choose to say?

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” What do you suppose that means? That he’s sitting across the room, keeping an eye on you? Checking in occasionally to see if you’re okay? Watching you from the sky, taking notes? The idea of Jesus as Big Brother, keeping us under eternal surveillance, is a little disturbing. If my “dinner” one day consists of spooning Nutella out of a jar at the kitchen sink, is that going down in the ledger?

Maybe. But when Jesus says he is eternally “with” us, I think he might mean something a little deeper than that. I believe that once a relationship with God exists (and we could have a long talk about how that happens, and whether it’s there from the beginning or requires some step to initiate it), then God is present in every cell of your body, in your DNA, tucked into every wrinkle in your brain. He is on your side, always—just as he’s on the side of your enemies. He is both the sweetness and the savory that you sense in certain moments—that you sense, but can’t quite define.

God is spiritual umami, the fifth taste, from the Japanese word that roughly translates as “yumminess.” “Taste and see that the Lord is umami,” the psalmist almost said. That yumminess, Jesus implied, is always there, waiting to be savored. We all eat to live. But perhaps the contemplative is one who lives to eat.